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When you travel frequently as I do, you naturally learn a lot of lessons by making mistakes. While some more of a hassle, others can create a nightmare. Big or small, it’s always better to learn them from someone else rather than learning them the hard way.
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Never Put Anything Important Into the Airline Seat-Back Pocket
Many travelers put their cell phone, passport and other important items into the seat-back pocket while getting settled for that long flight. While it might seem like the best place to put those items, it’s anything but. Not only is it a germ fest in there, but if you’re tired from your travels you could easily forget something that could cause a real nightmare, like your passport.
This is exactly what happened to me on my third flight of the day, a day that had started with a 2 a.m. wake-up call. I had a ferry to catch afterward, across the Canadian border no less, and the flight had been delayed so I was exhausted and in a rush. It wasn’t until I got to my car in the airport parking lot that I’d realized what I’d done. Running like a madwoman, I was out of breath when I told the airline agent what had happened. She made a phone call and was told the doors of the plane were already locked. I was on the phone with border patrol pleading my case and it wasn’t going well. Somehow the pilot had gotten word of it all and threw my passport out the window to a baggage handler. It was a miracle that I got it back, thanks to WestJet. I will never put it in the seat-back pocket again.
Failing to Check Your Passport When You Book Your Trip
Something many people don’t realize is that not only do you need at least six months left on your passport before it expires to enter many countries, but you also need enough blank pages available for the passport stamps of every single one that you plan to visit. If you don’t have enough pages, you can no longer simply add more, you’ll have to renew, so be sure to check as soon as you book your trip to avoid hefty fees for having it expedited.
Paying Twice For the Same Rental Car Insurance
There’s a good chance that your auto insurance policy will cover you for a car rental and the credit card you use to pay for it will take care of any important extras. Lots of people end up wasting money, making the mistake of buying something that’s totally redundant. Check with your auto insurance carrier and credit card company beforehand to find out if you really need to purchase it.
I’ve learned this lesson multiple times, and while I’m getting better, I have a bad habit of packing too much. You’re going to want some room to bring home souvenirs and gifts, otherwise, you’ll end up buying another bag and paying extra baggage fees to haul it back. Plus, having to lug a heavy suitcase across cobblestone roads and narrow flights of stairs is exhausting. The time I had to drag a 50-pounder up the winding stairs of a castle tower should have instilled this lesson in me. Hopefully, you’ll do better. Check out some expert tips on how to pack light.
Not Double Checking That All Your Caps are Screwed On Tight
In a hurry to repack and head to your next destination? Be sure that all of your caps are screwed on tight, from your shampoo to your toothpaste or you’re going to end up with an awful mess that isn’t easy to clean up. Trust me when I tell you that the smell and damage nail polish can do is not something you ever want to deal with.
Exchanging Currency Before Departure
Time and time again I read comments from people about exchanging currency before flying off to a foreign country, but it almost never makes good financial sense to do that. The cheapest way to get cash in your travel destination is to get it out of the ATM once you’ve arrived. Contact your bank to find out what the charges will be for the international use of your debit card. Some offer unlimited ATM withdrawals when traveling abroad and won’t charge you any transaction fees at all. A few even refund ATM fees charged by other banks anywhere in the world like Chase and Charles Schwab.
I had a bad habit of over-scheduling every trip at one point – it’s a lesson that took a while to learn but I finally realized what a mistake that was. You may want to see and do it all, but you can’t. If you rush, it will go by in a whirl, it won’t be all that enjoyable and you may not even remember much about the place if you’re always watching the clock, ready to leave for the next.
Underestimating How Much Time You'll Need Between Flights
I always arrive at the airport early – if I end up with extra time, I’ll use it to work or read a book. But something that not everyone thinks about when booking flights that require a layover, is the amount of time you’ll need in between. When given the choice on an itinerary, it’s much better to have more time to kill than not enough. If the first flight is delayed, you could end up missing the next one, stuck in Timbuktu. For connecting flights after returning to the U.S., remember that you’ll need time to go through immigration and customs too.
Hopping Into a Pedicab Without Prices Displayed
Pedicabs in Paris are legally required to display the properly fixed fares – if they don’t, there’s a good chance you’re going to get ripped off. A 5-minute drive down the street for $200? It happens, so if your feet are tired and you’re tempted to get in, be sure you know what it’s going to cost you, no matter what city you’re visiting.
Not Being Aware of Taxi Scams
Another way to lose a lot of money is by falling for a taxi scam. There are many different scams so it’s important to research the cities you’ll be visiting to be sure you hop into an official taxi and find out about potential scams so that you can avoid them. A common one is that, for example, the charge was €40 and you hand the driver a €50 note. The driver then gets out of the taxi and gets your bags out of the back. You ask for your change and the driver shows you the €20 note that he says you “gave him” and asks for another €20. You’re tired and want to check-in, thinking maybe you made a mistake, so you give him the €20. Only later do you realize that you only had one €50 note and it’s not there now, the driver switched it when you weren’t looking.
Relying on Electronics For Reservation Confirmations and Directions
We’re not used to carrying paper any more while we travel, whether it’s maps or reservation confirmations. We can use GPS and pull up emails and other notes right from our phone, so why bother? While you’ll probably be able to do that, there will come a time when for one reason or another you can’t get a signal or hook up to Wi-Fi. That’s when you will need those “old-fashioned” tools.
Dining Next to Popular Tourist Sites
Trying to decide where to dine? Don’t head to that restaurant right near the Pantheon in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or next to any other major tourist site. Not only are the prices going to be a lot higher, but the food is unlikely to be authentic, and probably won’t be all that great either. The farther you go from popular attractions, the better. Try to go where the locals go by getting recommendations from your Airbnb host or hotel staff or researching online ahead of time.
Napping After a Long Haul Flight
If you’ve just endured a long-haul flight, it’s tempting to hit the bed as soon as you check into your accommodation. But taking a nap, unless it’s a short one, is going to make jet lag a whole lot worse. If you want to fight jet lag like a pro, try to get your Zzzs on the plane, using earplugs and an eye mask to help. When you arrive, stay awake until as close to your normal bedtime there as possible. If you can manage it, you’ll wake up the next day feeling refreshed.
Forgetting to Alert the Bank About Your Travel Plans
You don’t want to be in a foreign country only to find out when you go to the ATM that your debit card won’t work. Before you leave, be sure to provide a travel notification to your bank, online, or by phone. Let them know the dates you’ll be traveling and the countries you’ll be visiting, or there’s a good chance your transaction will be declined.
Not Researching Your Destination For Common Scams
I’ve mentioned pedicab and taxi scams, but when visiting most big cities, there’s usually a long list of potential scams to watch out for. Do your research ahead of time to avoid getting ripped off – if a guy puts a “friendship” bracelet on your wrist let’s just say he doesn’t really want to be friends.